If you have been following efforts to grow the number of professionals of color in the wine industry, you will be glad to know that two recipients of an innovative award have landed dream jobs in wine.
Back in the fall of 2020, Suhayl Ramirez and Amanda Best, inaugural recipients of the Urban Grape Wine Studies Award for Students of Color, had just embarked on a year-long program of wine education, mentorship, and paid industry internships. The award, housed at Boston University’s Metropolitan College, is the brainchild of TJ and Hadley Douglas, the husband-and-wife owners of South End wine shop Urban Grape. The couple launched the initiative to increase access to an industry where people of color remain underrepresented. TJ Douglas will tell you that over the course of his 20-plus years in wine, he was, and frequently still is, the only Black professional in the room. He and Hadley are intent on changing that — two award winners at a time.
Ramirez and Best, the program’s first cohort, embody the change that the Douglases want to see. Earlier this year, Ramirez relocated to California’s Napa Valley, where she is now customer engagement officer for winery Trois Noix in St. Helena. There, she is responsible for everything customer-facing, including tastings, social media, community engagement, and charitable giving. “The through-line is that I’ve always been interacting with the public,” she says, reflecting on her varied career in consumer retail and marketing. “So now, in this position, I get to actually integrate all of those different versions of my work experience — and it’s really cool.” (Cool indeed. Ramirez met her current employer, winery founder and vintner Jaime Araujo, during a trip to Napa that was part of the program.)
Best is now also connected to the Golden State. Last month, she stepped into the role of communications coordinator for O’Donnell Lane, a public relations and marketing agency headquartered in Sonoma. Working remotely from Boston, she’s building on her background in journalism and communications to conduct media relations for a portfolio of food and wine clients. As the agency’s first hire of an East Coast team, she’s accustomed to blazing a trail. At her previous employer, Boston wine shop Charles Street Liquors, she was the first Black woman to work in management.
The award changed the lives of both women. When asked what aspects of the program will most help them succeed in their careers, both talk about the industry internships at MS Walker, a leading wine and spirits importer-distributor; at Row 34, the restaurant group of chef Jeremy Sewall and Shore Gregory; and at Urban Grape, where they were mentored by the Douglases. They engaged in projects illuminating how wine makes it from vineyard to shelf, as well as conducted tastings, curated product collections, and created sales tools — all while growing their professional networks.
“[The internships] were instrumental in getting me into a position where I felt confident enough in my ability to understand the industry before I took the role,” Ramirez explains. “When you layer on top of wine education and mentorship real work experiences, that just puts it into a different stratosphere.” Best agrees, adding that her time at Ross Road Custom Crush, a winemaking facility in Sonoma, will allow her, through her writing, to “bring to life” a process that is unfamiliar to most. The experience also left her with indelible memories. “I could honestly replace Peloton with punch-downs,” she quips, referring to the physically demanding task of submerging crushed grapes in their vat of juice.
Ramirez has advice for anyone wondering whether to apply for the next round of awards.
“Absolutely apply,” she says. “We need you. We need more of you. And there’s no question that this particular program will catapult you into the wine industry in a way that is 100 percent thorough, sustainable, and just so much fun.”
The deadline to apply for the next award cohort is March 15. Details are at theurbangrape.shop/pages/wine-studies-award.
Ellen Bhang can be reached at email@example.com